I know that I have already written far too much about the Chicago Pipe Show, but that is mostly because it is such a massive gathering that it would take me until the next show to fully explicate the totality of the event. One thing is without question about the show, as I am sure is true about almost all other pipe events: one of the best parts is getting the chance to meet new and incredible people there.
During the banquet on the Friday evening of the show, Lauren, Dustin, and I were joined by five men from Sweden. Two of the men were Martin and Anders of Vollmer & Nilsson, while two others were high end collectors. The fifth man, and the youngest, was named Jonas. He was extremely affable from the moment we met him, leaning across the table to shake hands, tell a joke, and let out a big laugh. From that moment on, we spent a great deal of time with Jonas Rosengren.
I had actually seen him for a couple of moments earlier that Friday at the show’s Smoke and Swap event. I was walking up and down the aisles, snapping as many photos as possible for the several stories that I was to be writing about the show. When I passed Jonas’s small table, I had to stop and look at the few pipes that he had available. Two of them were perfectly spherical, not counting the stem, of course, and refused to let my gaze go anywhere else. I then recalled seeing Jonas the night before, though I had no idea who he was at the time. I saw him smoking one of those spherical pipes and showing it to another pipe maker, who looked at it with a combination of skepticism, awe, and amazement. Now that I had a chance to look closer at these pipes, I understood why.
These pipes are Jonas’s take on the classic calabash. The top part pops out, revealing an expansion chamber inside. Jonas had another calabash design on his table that was in the shape of a volcano, which sold very quickly. The customer let him take a couple of puffs from it once it was bought, as Jonas had never gotten the chance to try it out before. He then leaned over to me and whispered, “This shape smokes even cooler than the ball calabash. I didn’t think that was possible.”
These ball calabashes have been a smash hit, to say the least. Within 72 hours of going live on Quality Briar, all of Jonas’s pipes were sold out and he already had at least two threads about him on pipe forums. I must admit, I couldn’t resist getting one of my own after eyeballing it for the whole weekend at the Chicago Show.
I asked Jonas where he got the idea for this take on the calabash: “From my head, I guess?” Jonas is never one to say anything without a joke and a smile. “I know that some makers have a shape that is their own, like Geiger’s logo pipe, and I wanted something that I haven’t seen before and made the spherical pipe. Then I realized that some similar been made before but not as a calabash so I tried that and I think that I succeed with the challenge.”
I would be inclined to agree. The ball calabash smokes extremely cool and without any effort whatsoever. I had to pack the bowl a little tighter than normal, but once I did, the pipe delivered incredible flavor and continued burning without effort. I rarely recommend pipes or tobaccos after just one bowl, but I was ready to do so after finishing my first flake in my Rosengren calabash.
It is a tough thing to make spherical pipes appear so perfect…at least, I would imagine. I’ve never tried it myself, but many pipe makers to whom I spoke about Jonas displayed nothing but clear appreciation. I wanted to get an idea of what exactly is involved with the process.
That’s right: Jonas has made fewer than fifty pipes and only four of what is currently acting as his flagship shape. That is an exceedingly quick learning curve.
Jonas said that he initially got started making pipes because of the beautiful grain of the wood and “the challenge to make something that is said to very difficult. I like to work with my hands and have always wanted to be my own boss.” I got the impression of Jonas from the very beginning that he is someone who accepts and meets any challenge head on.
One of the things that has allowed Jonas to grow as quickly as he has as a pipe maker, aside from natural talent, is that he has been taught by some incredible pipe makers, such as Vollmer & Nilsson. When I first asked him about working with the brothers, Jonas jokingly responded that “it sucks!” He quickly told me, however, that “they are probably some of the nicest people on Earth and I’m lucky to know them. They have been incredibly helpful for me, like the other Swedish pipemakers. I have been in their workshop several times and enjoyed every second of it. They have taught me a lot, such as to remember that a pipe is a tool for smoking: it must be a good smoker. Try to make every next pipe better and never ever save a pipe if it’s not good enough. They have given me many good, important advice, but I think that a pipe that doesn’t smoke good is not really a pipe at all. Even with all they have taught me, it’s hard to go to them because they demand that I have to make an apple pie for them every time I want to come, otherwise I’m not welcome.”
Like I said, Jonas is a kind man with an omnipresent sense of humor.
After the dinner on the Friday of the Chicago Show, we all headed out to the smoking tent to wait for Kevin Godbee to start speaking. While we were out there, Lauren packed her meerschaum for a smoke, but was having a little difficulty using my Old Boy lighter. To solve the problem, Jonas gave her his lighter and showed her the best way to use it so that she would not burn her fingers. Just a couple minutes later, he reached into his bag and pulled out a tamper with a tall, clear, paneled top and a golden bottom and handed it to Lauren, saying that “every woman needs diamonds”. Jonas made this tamper himself and had only made one other like it. To this day, that tamper is one of Lauren’s favorite possessions, because of the kindness of the man who gave it to her.
To show that I am not allowing my bias to color my description of Jonas, I asked Lauren to describe him (so we now have two biased individuals instead of one!): ”He’s a very sweet man with a quirky sense of humor. He is clearly passionate about what he does and is highly interested in the opinions of others, but does not always let that impact the way he interacts with the world.”
Jonas is always eager for new experiences. On the last day of the Chicago Show, he asked me to help him find some blends with Latakia in them for him to try, since he has mostly been smoking aromatics (as they are very easy to acquire in Sweden). I took him over to the Iwan Ries table and picked him out a tin of Blue Mountain (which he said is “amazingly excellent”), 3 Oaks Syrian, and a bag of Penzance. I figured I might as well give him a few of the best, right? We then went over to the Cornell & Diehl table so he could get a good Virginia blend that he couldn’t acquire at home. In the end, he settled on Union Square, from G.L. Pease. I’d say he left with some quality blends.
More than almost anyone I have ever met, Jonas is exceedingly passionate about pipes and his place in the pipe world. For example, I casually asked Jonas what he liked to do in his free time: “I like to be with my family and friends and make pipes. I like to be able to make as many pipes as I want. I normally go down to my workshop when the rest of the family goes to sleep, so you can say that I’m a night owl. I can sleep when I’m in the grave.” It should go without saying, but that last part was followed by an enormous smile.
Jonas puts pipes as a heavy emphasis when it comes to his present life, but also in his hopes for the future. “I’m hoping to make a living of pipemaking and only the future knows if that’s possible. I really love to make pipes, but I have just done it in my spare time, so I don’t know how it will be if I can be able to do it full time. We will see. I am sure that I want to create something with my mind and hands and I think today that it’s pipes, because it’s like meditation when I’m working on a pipe. I just love to it! One thing is for sure, I will go to Chicago pipe show next year! And of course, I want to finish making my homepage on the internet (jrsweden.com).
Plans for the future aside from pipes? I want to be able to spend time with my family and maybe build a workshop in the garden so I don’t have to be in the basement. Go skiing in the winter and just enjoying my life.”
I certainly cannot predict the future, but I firmly believe that Jonas Rosengren has a very secure future in the pipe world. He amazed me with his talent and his kindness. I cannot recommend this man highly enough as a pipe maker and as a person.
As Jonas mentioned, his website is not yet complete, so he asked that I provide his e-mail for any who wish to be in contact with him: firstname.lastname@example.org